The Ten

The Ten

Friday, 11 September 2015

The "road" to Popayan.

Technically, the road from San Agustin over the Cordillera to Popayan was in an area that the British Foreign Office warn against "all but essential travel"; the region being under threat from bandits, drug cartels and FARC. The locals thought the road was quite safe though. The only other option would be to backtrack north and cross the Cordillera in a "safer" area before heading south to Popayan: at least a 2 day detour. Not liking to go back on myself, and from the best local knowledge, I took the direct route through bandit country.
The road started spectacularly out of San Agustin, snaking its way over beautiful valleys on perfect tarmac. I was making good time in covering the mere 80 odd miles to the other side. Then a bad stretch of unsurfaced road appeared, all good, I'd read somewhere that the whole route was now tarmac, so this must be one final bit the road builders hadn't got around to yet? It only lasted a few miles before the nice smooth stuff returned. Again making great time and seeing nobody, I ploughed on.
Then an army checkpoint appeared, the first one at which I was compelled to stop. They checked my papers and I asked in my best Spanish "es el camino seguro?" (is the road safe?). "Si,si" came the reply. They even laughed at my suggestions of "bandidos". Feeling greatly reassured I carried on. But the tarmac abruptly ended to be replaced by many tens of miles of various hard packed dirt, sharp rocks, mud, sand and most of all pot-holes in all conceivable shapes and sizes. A lot of trucks also appeared fighting for room on this "road". Progress was slow and all my attention and energy was on not dropping the bike. This went on for what seemed like hours. The tarmac didn't reappear until well on to the west side of the Cordillera, and even then it turned to crap again occasionally before I finally pulled into Popayan.

The bike took the whole thing in its stride; even giving this rubbish rider the confidence to just attack the off road thing. What a machine! Below is a short film of the road before it turned bad:

Popayan itself is a pretty, old Spanish colonial town, with lots of churches and whitewashed buildings. It also has a bizarre number of photocopying shops. Spent a couple of nights here to soak it all in. There are also a few funky little bars cranking out salsa music. Not a bad place to be.

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